Troy is out of school-funding options

Keene Sentinel Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2015 12:00 pm

Troy is out of potential lifelines and on the hook.

Taxpayers there have faced an uphill climb since the decline and bankruptcy of Troy Mills, the town’s signature industry, in 2003. In addition to the loss of jobs, the lost tax revenue put the town in a bind. Over the past dozen years Troy has consistently had among the highest local tax rates in the state.

The latest blow to the town came when voters in the Monadnock Regional School District approved a new district funding formula in 2013. The amount each town pays to the school district annually changed from being based on 50 percent student enrollment and 50 percent town property valuation, to 75 percent student enrollment and 25 percent town property valuation.

Not coincidentally, the previous formula had been suggested by Troy, a town with lots of students and little relief in its property tax base. The change hit hard. Selectmen, knowing this would be the case, appealed to the state Department of Education and then through the courts, arguing the district vote was taken illegally. With the N.H. Supreme Court’s decision last week not to hear Troy’s legal case, those appeals have now both failed.

When the formula change took effect on July 1, 2013, Troy’s payments to the school district increased 16.1 percent, from about $3.96 million in 2012-13 to roughly $4.6 million in 2013-14. That drove the town’s tax rate from $26.77 per $1,000 in valuation in 2012-13 to $36.26 in 2013-14.

After saying he expects Troy will author a new formula for the district as soon as state law allows — which is three years from the most recent change — selectmen Chairman Gideon Nadeau echoed a point we’ve made many times regarding the state’s refusal to pay more than lip service to its responsibility to educate its children.

“We can’t keep going back and forth with each town,” he said. “In my opinion, the state needs to come up with some sort of formula to change how it funds schools. This is ridiculous.”

Yes it is.

In 2014, Troy’s local tax rate was second-highest in the state, behind only Claremont.

You may remember Claremont as the city that lent its name to a pair of lawsuits that came to symbolize New Hampshire’s utter refusal to tax residents equitably and apparent disregard for the quality of education its children receive. The city, and four other communities involved in the suits, actually won, leading the state Supreme Court to demand the Legislature fix the inequities in education funding caused by an overreliance on local property taxes.

Of course the Legislature and a string of governors from both sides of the aisle have found ways to wriggle out of that commitment, mainly by designating a portion of each community’s local property taxes as “state education taxes,” then returning them from whence they came. It’s a shell game that’s fooled no one, yet the court has yet, 17 years after its Claremont II ruling, to demand an actual resolution.

Ridiculous, indeed.